In the future, it could be possible to stimulate the immune system with extremely high efficacy via the skin. Cutanos GmbH, a spin-off from the Max Planck Institute (MPI) of Colloids and Interfaces, has developed a corresponding method for modulating immune cells in the skin. The LC-TDS technology makes it possible to specifically influence certain cells of the immune system and thus fight various infections and diseases. Founded in Vienna in January, the start-up has concluded an exclusive licence with the Max Planck Society (MPG) for this novel procedure and is now developing innovative immunotherapies based upon it.
Bacteria and viruses are recognised by various cells of the immune system via antigens, i.e. external molecular structures that are specific to each pathogen. Antigens are therefore a popular basis for vaccines and immunotherapies designed to train the immune system to fight pathogens. However, these antigens are detected by a multitude of different receptors on different immune cells, which can sometimes result in divergent reactions within the immune system. Now, for the first time, a new method developed at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam is making it possible to supply only a specific type of immune cell with antigens in order to trigger a controlled immune response. Known as "Langerhans cells", these cells are predominantly located in the uppermost skin layer (epidermis) and contain the Langerin receptor, which is specific to them. The technique developed at the MPI allows exclusive access to these immune cells via an artificially produced ligand that only binds to Langerin.
LC-TDS technology elicits the desired immune response
The Langerin-specific ligand is the core of the Langerhans Cell Targeted Delivery System, (LC-TDS). In addition to the ligand, this modular system includes a transport system (vehicle) and the active substances or antigens to be delivered (cargo). The ligand is a small, synthetically produced molecule that sits on the surface of the carrier in large numbers. Due to its high binding specificity for Langerin, it ensures that the vehicle is detected and processed by the Langerhans cells just like a natural pathogen. Liposomes, proteins, LNPs (lipid nanoparticles) or other microparticles serve as the vehicles. Studies on epidermal cell suspensions as well as human skin explants have shown that the LC-TDS is taken up by 97 per cent of Langerhans cells, whereas only 0.1 percent of other, so-called off-target cells are addressed. This combination of high specificity and selectivity allows the active substances to be transported and with extreme precision. The cargo can be small molecules, peptides, proteins or mRNA. Since the addressed Langerhans cells are located in the top layer of the skin, LC-TDS can be administered via minimally invasive microneedles.
As mediators of immunity and tolerance, Langerhans cells are able to distinguish between foreign and endogenous antigens. Therefore, the LC-TDS can be applied in different areas for the purpose of immune activation and regulation. As a result, Cutanos is currently working on antiviral vaccines and therapies for autoimmune diseases. In addition, drug delivery can also be used to specifically kill cancerous Langerhans cells, as is necessary in cases of Langerhans cell histiocytosis, for example.
Funding secures development
Cutanos GmbH has set itself the goal of developing the LC-TDS to market maturity and marketing it internationally. For this purpose, it has rented office and laboratory space on the campus of the University of Vienna, where it has access to the institution's research infrastructure. The two founders, Prof. Christoph Rademacher and Dr Robert Wawrzinek together with other scientists, conceived the novel method at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in the department of Peter H. Seeberger, and have now exclusively licensed it as part of their spin-off, which was founded in January. In addition, the start-up has successfully secured funds from an international consortium of investors as part of its current seed-funding round. "The successful spin-off of Cutanos is a perfect example of how breakthroughs in basic research can be implemented so that important medical challenges can be addressed," says Prof. Dr. Peter H. Seeberger, Director of the Biomolecular Systems Department at the MPI.
Cutanos GmbH's business model envisages adapting the technology to the individual needs of its customers in the biotech and pharmaceutical sectors in the future. Thus, the company will present the design, formulation and preclinical in vitro and in vivo experiments with the goal of creating customised LC-TDS solutions. In addition, following successful proof of concepts (PoCs), Cutanos will advance the application of its method into clinical development for the indications of antiviral vaccines, Graves' disease and Langerhans cell histiocytosis.
Max Planck Innovation, the technology transfer organisation of the MPG, has long supported and accompanied the startup's establishment – and has now licensed the LC-TDS technology to the fledgling business. "We are very enthusiastic about the LC-TDS approach being developed by Cutanos GmbH. The scientists' tireless efforts, together with the SARS-CoV2 project funded by the KHAN Technology Transfer Fund I (KHAN-I), has finally helped to get the new company off the ground and laid the foundation for the current funding round," says Dr Mareike Göritz, Senior Patent and Licensing Manager at Max Planck Innovation. "We are pleased that the two co-inventors Prof. Christoph Rademacher and Dr Robert Wawrzinek continue to contribute their great expertise in this field to bring the technology to the market and thus to the patients."
About Cutanos GmbH
Via a modular and highly flexible drug delivery system, Cutanos, which was founded in Vienna in January 2021, aims to develop antigen-specific immunotherapies to realise antiviral vaccines as well as treatments for autoimmune diseases. As a spin-off from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, the research team from the Austrian capital has secured funding from a consortium of investors (including KHAN-I, HTGF and IST cube) and will use this to demonstrate the full range of its platform technology.
About the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces
Tiny apatite crystals in bones, vesicles formed out of membranes, pores in membranes for fuel cells and microcapsules as vehicles for medical drugs – all these are structures that are larger than an atom, yet too small to be seen with the naked eye. These are the kinds of nanostructures and microstructures that scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces examine and create. The structures are often colloids – tiny particles in a different medium – or interfaces between two materials. Many of the structures can be found in nature. The scientists at the Potsdam-based Institute endeavour to understand how they are composed and how they work in order to imitate their behaviour in new materials or in vaccines, for example. Understanding the function of these structures can also help to identify the causes of certain diseases that occur when the folding of membranes or the transport of materials in cells fails to work properly.
About Max Planck Innovation
As the technology transfer organization of the Max Planck Society, Max Planck Innovation is the link between industry and basic research. With our interdisciplinary team, we advise and support scientists at the Max Planck Institutes in evaluating inventions, filing patents and starting businesses. We offer industry central access to the innovations of the Max Planck Institutes. We are therefore fulfilling an important task: The transfer of results from basic research into commercially and socially useful products.
Further information can be found at www.max-planck-innovation.com